I took my teenagers and went to a professional soccer game last Sunday afternoon. It was a fun event. We were told to not go to a night game, because night games are quiet a bit more ‘eventful’ due to the fact that fans have all day to consume alcohol, so they are drunk before the game even starts.
We went with some friends, one of whom is a great soccer fan, so he was able to fill us in on details. Here is a copy of our dialogue:
Joe: Are these games really safe? I feel a little uneasy.
Monte: If you don’t come to night games…cuz the fans are already drunk…and if you don’t sit anywhere else but here. These seats cost a lot more (they are $3/seat), but they are pretty safe.
Monte: Look behind you. This is the low section so we can have good seats, but only a few rows of people behind you. But more importantly, the opposing team fans sit on both ends of the field. You don’t want to be anywhere near that section.
Monte: Watch and you will see. Anytime action happens on the field, a foul, goal, or perceived bad call, the fans that feel wronged take it out on the others. They will throw bottles full of soda, rocks, or other stuff. One of things that happens a lot is they ignite fireworks and shoot each other. If there is a goal, you may have someone stand up with a Roman Candle and shoot balls of fire into the other fans section. Sometimes, they shoot these balls of fire at the umpires and players.
Joe: Don’t they get caught?
Monte: If it is a firework that repeats itself so that the police can backtrack it they will, but if it is a one shot, or a bottle, no one even tries.
Joe: Another question. Why are their so many police in full riot gear, complete with Kevlar, helmets and riot shields?
Monte: They protect the players and umpires from the fans.
This dialogue continued as I sought to fully experience this cultural event. Here is how it unfolded.
There were fireworks off and on, set off by the fans, until the players came on the field. You knew it was time for the players to come, because the riot police went to the locker room doors and formed a ‘turtle shell’ with their shields—think Roman Soldiers defending themselves from the enemies archers. This turtle let the bottles bounce off of the plexiglass shields rather than the players skulls.
Then, the bands began to play. Suddenly, HUGE fireworks went off IN stands. Fireworks like you see in the park at the fourth of July. Sparks showered down on all the fans in the same section, and smoke bombs went off. The huge marching drums began to beat. Then the same thing happened on the other side for the other team. The drums competed against each other for volume and overall African Tribe Beat. Let me put a note here. The drums started as the players went off the field…and NEVER stopped. The entire game, an hour and a half, there were thirty drums going BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG. Did I mention they did this the whole game? Like, never stopped?
Then the play began. It was a good game, with a lot of fan interaction, some occasional fireworks, and some bottles. At the end of the game, after the players left the field, the riot police went to the middle of the playing area. They met the umpires there, formed the ‘turtle shield’ and protected the referees as bottles bounced off harmlessly.
We waited until the most aggressive appearing people had left, and then went home. It was a lot of fun watching…and every once in a while we looked at the soccer game too. In the words of MacArthur…we will return.